Kingdom of Hungary in The Middle Ages - Middle Ages (1242–1526) - Age of The Two Hunyadis (1437–1490)

Age of The Two Hunyadis (1437–1490)

Further information: John Hunyadi, Matthias Corvinus, Ottoman–Hungarian Wars, and Black Army of Hungary

Sigismund who had no sons died in late 1437. The Estates elected his son-in-law, Albert V of Austria king. He promised not to make any decisions without consulting the prelates and the lords. The king died of dysentery during an unsuccessful military operation against the Ottomans in 1439.

Although his widow gave birth to a posthumous son, Ladislaus V, most noblemen preferred a monarch capable to fight. They offered the crown to Władysław III of Poland. Both Ladislaus and Władysław were crowned which caused a civil war. John Hunyadi, a talented military leader who supported Władysław rose to prominence during these fights.

King Władysław appointed him (together with his close friend, Nicholas Újlaki) to command the southern defenses in 1441. Hunyadi made several raids against the Ottomans. During his "long campaign" of 1443-1444, the Hungarian forces penetrated as far as Sofia within the Ottoman Empire. The Holy See organized a new crusade, but the Ottomans annihilated the Christian forces in the battle of Varna in 1444.

Since Władysław perished in the battlefield, the Diet of 1445 acknowledged the infant Ladislaus V as rightful monarch. He lived in the court of his relative, Frederick III. Therefore, the Estates appointed seven "captains" (one of them being Hunyadi) to govern the kingdom. The Diet of 1446 elected Hunyadi sole regent, but it was also stipulated that he should convoke the Diet annually. At the Diets, all official documents were issued and even speeches could be made in Latin. However, the German-speaking delegates from Pressburg (Bratislava, Slovakia) reported already in 1446 that they could not understand the debates because the noblemen spoke in Hungarian.

Large territories remained independent of the central government in Hunyadi's regency. For instance, Frederick III held several towns along the western borders, and a Czech mercenary, John Jiskra of Brandýs administered many fortresses in the northern regions. Even so, Hunyadi was planning to fight against the Ottomans in their own territories. However, his new campaign ended with the Christian forces' defeat in 1448.

Ladislaus V's Austrian and Bohemian subjects forced Emperor Frederick III to hand their young monarch over to his new guardian, Ulrich II, Count of Celje in 1452. Hunyadi also resigned from the regency, but he continued to administer a significant part of royal revenues and many royal fortresses. According to a contemporary proposal for the reform of royal revenues, more than 50 percent thereof (around 120,000 florins) derrived from the royal monopoly on salt and a direct tax payable by the peasantry.

The fall of Constantinople in 1453 demonstrated the beginning of a new phase of Ottoman expansion under Sultan Mehmed II. He occupied Serbia in two years and decided to take Belgrade (Hungarian: Nándorfehérvár), the key of fort at Hungary's southern frontier. The defence was organized by John Hunyadi who was assisted by the Franciscan preacher, John of Capistrano. They mobilized 25-30,000 communers, cut the Ottomans' supply lines and forced them to withdraw on July 22, 1456. Hunyadi died in an epidemic in two weeks.

Ulrich of Celje ordered Hunyadi's elder son, Ladislaus to hand over all royal castles held by his father. Ladislaus Hunyadi pretended to accept the command, but his retinue murdered Ulrich of Celje in Belgrade. He and his younger brother, Matthias were arrested in March 1457. However, the former's execution stirred up the lesser nobility to revolt. The king fled to Prague where he died before the end of the year.

A Diet was convoked and the assembled noblemen elected Matthias Hunyadi king in 1458. The young monarch in short time removed the powerful Ladislaus Garay of the office of palatine and his uncle, Michael Szilágyi of the regency. Led by Garay, his opponents offered the crown to Frederick III, but Matthias defeated them and concluded a peace treaty with the emperor in 1464. In the meantime, the zone of buffer states along the kingdom's southern frontiers collapsed with the occupation of Serbia and Bosnia by the ottomans. As an immediate consequence, a great number of Serbian refugees settled in the kingdom.

King Matthias introduced remarkable fiscal and military reforms. First of all, peasants were in each year obliged to pay a lump-sum "extraordinary tax", often without the consent of the Diet. Traditional taxes were renamed in order to abolish earlier exemptions (for instance, the "thirtieth" was collected under the name "duty of the Crown" from 1467). Contemporary estimations suggest that his total yearly income was about 650,000 golden florins. More than 60 percent of his revenues (about 400,000 florins) derrived from the "extraordinary tax", but salt monopoly and coinage still yielded significant income (60-80,000 florins).

Increased royal revenues enabled Matthias to set up and maintain a standing army. Consisting of mainly Czech, German and Hungarian mercenaries, his "Black Army" was one of the first professional military forces in Europe. Matthias strengthened the network of fortresses along the southern frontier, but he did not pursue his father's offensive anti-Ottoman policy. Instead, he launched attacks on Bohemia, Poland, and Austria, arguing that he was trying to forge an alliance strong enough to expel the Ottomans from Europe.

Although his war against the "heretic" George of Poděbrady, king of Bohemia was supported by the Holy See, this reorientation of the kingdom's foreign policy was unpopular. Led by John Vitéz, archbishop of Esztergom, many of Matthias's former supporters rebelled against him in 1471. They offered the throne to Casimir, son of Casimir IV of Poland, but Matthias overcame them without difficulties. His war against Bohemia ended with the Peace of Olomouc of 1478 which confirmed his hold of Moravia, Silesia and Lusatia. In the next decade, Matthias waged a war against Emperor Frederick III which enabled him to occupy Styria and Lower Austria (including Vienna).

Matthias rarely convoked a Diet and governed by royal decrees after 1471. He preferred to employ lesser nobles and even communers instead of aristocrats in state administration. His Decretum Maius of 1486 strengthened the authority of county magistrates by abolishing the palatine's right to convoke judicial assemblies in the counties and by annulling earlier immunities. King "Matthias the Just" travelling in disguise throughout his realm in order to suppress corruption became a hero of popular folk tales in some years after his death.

Matthias's court was "unquestionably among the most brilliant in Europe" (Miklós Molnár). His library, the Bibliotheca Corviniana with its 2,000 manuscripts, was the second greatest in size among contemporary book-colections. Matthias was the first monarch north of the Alps to introduce Italian Renaissance style in his realms. Inspired by his second wife, Beatrice of Naples, he had the royal palaces at Buda and Visegrád rebuilt under the auspices of Italian architects and artists after 1479.

Read more about this topic:  Kingdom Of Hungary In The Middle Ages, Middle Ages (1242–1526)

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